(Lack of) Trigger Warnings Policy

This blog does not use trigger warnings. In fact, this page and whatever page you were linked to it from are the only ones on which you will find the words ‘trigger’ and ‘warning’ side-by-side. There’s a good reason this, but I’ll need to provide a bit of background first so please, bear with me (or, if you prefer, skip all this and go down to the last paragraph where I give the practical upshot).

The term ‘trigger warning’ comes from the feminist blogosphere of the mid-aughts, and it was a damn good idea that has since been twisted into something useless and unrecognizable. Feminist bloggers had a problem: they wanted their blogs to be safe spaces in which women could talk about their experiences and discuss social issues, but given the subject matter, those experiences and social issues overlapped a lot with common trauma triggers. Triggers are a psychological phenomenon, often but not necessarily associated with PTSD, in which a new experience causes the sufferer to involuntarily recall a traumatic memory. That might not sound so bad when laid out in clinical terms, but getting triggered is a deeply unsettling and unpleasant experience. It can fuck your whole day up. It’s certainly not the kind of thing a gracious bloghost should be inflicting on unsuspecting readers. So, since readers of feminist blogs were more likely than the general population to have trauma triggers, and the subject matter discussed on feminist blogs was unusually likely to be triggering, something had to give, and so feminist bloggers started using and enforcing trigger warnings, short written warnings preceding potentially triggering content which advise readers of what sort of things they could expect to find below it.

The whinging man-babies of the internet love to mock trigger warnings and decry them as wicked feminazi censorship schemes, but in their original forms, trigger warnings were the exact opposite of that: they were there to lubricate the wheels of discourse. Bloggers could discuss sensitive topics without worrying about adversely affecting their readers, and their readers could read without needing to worry about suddenly coming across something that will set off their PTSD. People without triggers could simply ignore the trigger warnings, and people with them could make a choice whether to engage with potentially triggering material. Everybody won.

There was one thing that was a big tricky, though: which triggers to warn for? You see, although many triggers are straightforward and clear (sexual assault, child abuse, etc.), triggers can also be very personal and very specific to an individual. Even something perfectly innocent in its own right can potentially set someone off. In fact, anything can be a trigger: a song, a taste, a piece of furniture. I remember reading the account of a sexual assault survivor who had no problem whatsoever watching graphic scenes of fictional sexual assault, but who can’t stand listening to the song that was playing on the car radio when her assault happened because it brings it all rushing back. Human brains are amazing, but also weird and not always particularly helpful.

So, because these feminist blogs were particularly dedicated to keeping their space safe, in addition to warning for common triggers, most of them started accommodating their readers’ more esoteric triggers. It was impossible to warn for every single possibly triggering thing, but most of these feminist bloggers didn’t think it was too much of a burden to start warning for specific things upon request. If you were triggered by peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches, or the word ‘moist’, or Hey Arnold!, you could request that they warn for it and they would do so. This, too, was a good idea, but it was also the beginning of big problems.

People who participated in the feminist blogosphere also did other kinds of blogging, you see, and they took this concept with them when they switched spaced. Suddenly, trigger warnings were all over fandom, particularly the female-dominated side of fandom on Livejournal etc. And as people whose only exposure to the term was in fandom started using it more and more, semantic drift started setting in. People started using ‘trigger’ as a catch-all for things they didn’t like. The term went from specific and useful to vague and meaningless. This could maybe have been prevented by pushback from people in the same space who were more familiar with the original meaning, but a quirk of how feminist blog spaces work made this almost impossible. Because anything can plausibly be a trigger, and because nobody should have to litigate their traumatic experiences, and because feminist spaces tend (for good and obvious reasons) to be very big on believing survivors of trauma, it was considered extremely rude – offensive, even – to question somebody’s triggers. If someone said they were triggered by something, that was the end of the discussion; you took them at their word and moved on. This was a good rule when you were in a space where everyone was clear on the definitions and had a dedication to the same issues, but as ‘trigger warnings’ seeped out into more general use, it led to a lot of situations where the term ‘trigger’ was being tossed around cavalierly, and everyone else was more or less helpless to say anything about it.

And so ‘trigger warnings’ died as a useful term. The incorrect definition spread further and faster than the real one, and so became the de facto definition. It was no longer clear, when someone said that something was a trigger for them, whether they meant it was a trauma trigger or if it simply made them uncomfortable. And that matters a lot, because the level of severity between the two is huge.

So does all of that mean you can expect me to post a bunch of graphic shit on you with no warnings? Well, no, because I’m not an asshole. Any discussion of sexual assault, graphic violence, sex, or other commonly upsetting material will still get put under a Read More with a warning before it letting you know what you’re getting into. Because even if you don’t have triggers, who wants to have that kind of stuff sprung on them out of nowhere? That’s just bad manners. But I’m not using the specific framework of trigger warnings, which means I will not be warning for unusual or esoteric triggers. Partly because doing so would be making myself responsible for your mental well-being, and I’ve already had enough of that for one lifetime, partly because there’s no way for me to distinguish between legitimate triggers and not-so-legit ones, and partly because as expressed above, their usefulness as a term has pretty well come to its end and I don’t feel like kicking the corpse is a particularly valuable use of time.

I understand that this may mean that some readers with esoteric triggers may have to stop following The Young Curmudgeon, and I’m not happy about that, but at the end of the day if you need to drop me for your mental health, I will not begrudge you. You have to look out for yourself.